Communications Careers: The Path to Success Isn’t Straight or Level

I read somewhere that the key to progress and success is simply putting one foot in front of the other and repeating the process. There’s no doubt that by following this approach you can go a long way. 

But there are caveats. If you keep putting one foot in front of the other and there’s a cliff in front of you, you’ll fall off. So we need to add into the mix that progress is also about making smart decisions, being on the right path, and learning from mistakes. Mountains can be surmounted with this simple approach. 

To illustrate how far you could go, assuming you could walk on water and there were no hills or mountains, if you traveled 20 miles every day, in four years you would have been able to walk around the world. You can go a long way with small steps.

Careers are Comprised of Steep Inclines and Plateaus

This reminds me of career advice my former boss at Morgan Stanley gave me when I lived in Japan: In life, the progress we make is a series of steep inclines followed by plateaus. In other words, steps of the kind that take you higher.

This was wise perspective. The idea can help us put our career progress into perspective: 

  • We learn the most, and the fastest, when we are going up an incline. This may be the result of taking on a new job or working on the launch of a new campaign or learning a new technology. We have to learn quickly or risk falling. Because you’re on a steep slope, if you look down or up the experience can be uncomfortable and lead to doubt. In these moments, we face our fears and make choices – do I stretch myself and continue up, or give up and go down to the comfort of the plain below.  
  • Getting to the top of a mountain takes work. There simply is no other way. You are in competition with a lot of other climbers. And, in a rapidly changing world, if you are not going up you are likely falling behind. 
  • When you get to the top of the mountain you will have the opportunity to rest. You'll realize how far you’ve come and how comfortable you now feel. 
  • Of course, when we get to the top, we know we will see the next mountain range ahead of us. But, knowing that we were able to get up the first incline provides the strength to keep going.

Career Obstacles & Decisions

Our careers, or entrepreneurial journeys, all follow some version of this path. There will be valleys or obstacles to be overcome. We may find we took the wrong route and have to re-trace our steps. At these moments, we may decide to push on or pursue a completely different direction or career – one that forces us to climb new and unfamiliar terrain.

With this in mind, it’s worth stopping for a moment, wherever you are in your career, to ask yourself:  Am I growing? Am I going up an incline or am I on a plateau? Am I stressed because I am learning, or because I’m not stretching myself or I’m overreaching? 

As you look at your career, thinking about where you are in the context of these steps and plateaus may be a powerful way to understand the challenges you face, get over doubts you may have, and recognize that you are not the first on this path.

Career Mountains & Objectives

Putting this in context, I once spent three days hiking in the Himalayas with the goal of seeing Annapurna, the first 8,000 meter mountain to be summited. The hike was an unrelenting upward staircase, but we stopped at tea houses on the way up to rest and recuperate. The first morning was the hardest and scariest, with sheer drops to the side of us. But once I knew there would be respites and had got through the first sections, the climb got easier. At the beginning of the third day we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the mountain. I could have gone even higher, but for me, I’d achieved my goal. It was time to focus on the next objective. 

Communications Career Success

Success may well be achieved by putting one foot in front of the other, but it takes effort and making good choices. It’s important to pause on level ground every now and again to gear up for the next summit in the knowledge that you’ve succeeded before and will do so again. 


Note:  A version of the article first appeared in Diedre Breakenridge’s PR Expanded Blog.


Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatchTM 

CommunicationsMatch offers communications & PR agency search tools and resources that help companies find, shortlist, and engage communications, digital marketing and branding agencies, consultants and freelancers by industry and communications expertise, location and size.  The site has 5,000 agency and professional profiles in areas including: crisis communications, public relations, internal communications, government affairs, investor relations, content marketing, social media, SEO, website development, photography and video. Prior to founding CommunicationsMatch, Locke held senior corporate communications roles at Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank and founded communications consultancies.                   

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